Women soccer players have alarmingly high injury rates compared to men

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Top sports orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Plancher on how to reduce the risks

The number of women's collegiate soccer teams has increased significantly in the new millennium to nearly 900, tripling the number of female teams playing in the late 1980s. Additionally, the official U.S. Women's National Team has held a record-breaking win streak in 2008, demonstrating their highly competitive nature. And, with so many more players, and so many more competitions, it's not surprising that the number of playing-field injuries has also increased. What is surprising is that women sustain injuries at a rate of 3-8 times that of male players, for reasons that are not yet clearly understood.

Soccer injuries follow consistent patterns―more than 70% occur in the lower extremities. "Soccer players are particularly vulnerable to ligamental injuries caused by sudden stopping and starting on the playing field, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tears that can result from the hard twisting and turning moves soccer players are best known for," explains Dr. Kevin Plancher, a leading orthopedic surgeon in the NY metro area and an official surgeon of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team.

Additionally, blunt trauma to the knee from contact with other players or the ball results in the all-too-common injuries to the medial collateral ligament (MCL). A study by Randall Dick of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and others in 2003 showed that player to player contact was most common cause of injury (54%) in competition, but occurred less frequently in practice (20%).

Aside from contact injuries, women players are 4 to 10 times more likely to sustain non-contact injuries than male players, resulting in a devastating ACL rupture when a player lands on a fully extended leg. Athletes dread the all-too-familiar "pop" that may be the only sign of an ACL tear, and the resulting damage that could sideline the player for weeks or even months with costly surgical repair bills.

"Although you may not feel any pain immediately from an ACL rupture, within 2 to 12 hours, the knee will swell, and you will feel pain when you try to stand," Dr. Plancher says. "If you walk or run on an injured ACL, you can permanently damage the cushioning cartilage in your knee, which is why an orthopedic consult is immediately needed."

Studies have shown that ankle sprains are also highly common among women soccer players, making up nearly 20% of all soccer-related injuries. "The unfortunate thing is that so many of these injuries are preventable," Dr. Plancher notes. Dr. Plancher teaches many of his patient's preventive maintenance that helps avoid these kinds of injuries at the Orthopaedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles (http://www.ofals.org), which can sideline a young or experienced athlete, and can sometimes end careers.

One of the greatest risk factors for a new ACL injury is a history of a previous injury, making it even more paramount to prevent this kind of damage in the first place, suggests Dr. Plancher. The sudden deceleration moves so common to soccer are a primary culprit in destabilizing the knee for ACL tears to occur.

While players are aware of these risks, they continue to make the same moves. "Preparing for competition and practice with sufficient and appropriate warm-up stretches as well as a long-term conditioning program to strengthen and stabilize the knees and ankles can reduce these risks significantly," Dr. Plancher reports. Conditioning programs like the one in southern California was in fact developed, as is ours, for soccer players and provides exercises to develop strength and agility and improve coordinate and balance.

Kevin D. Plancher, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.S., F.A.A.O.S, is a leading orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine expert with treatment in knee, shoulder, elbow and hand injuries. Dr. Plancher is an Associate Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY. He is on the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

A graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Plancher received an M.S. in Physiology and an M.D. from their school of medicine (cum laude). He did his residency at Harvard's combined Orthopaedic program and a Fellowship at the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, Colorado where he studied shoulder and knee reconstruction. Dr. Plancher continued his relationship with the Clinic for the next six years as a Consultant. Dr. Plancher has been a team physician for over 15 athletic teams, including high school, college and national championship teams. Dr. Plancher is currently the head team physician for Manhattanville College. Dr. Plancher is an attending physician at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City and The Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT and has offices in Manhattan and Greenwich, Connecticut. http://www.plancherortho.com

Dr. Plancher lectures extensively domestically and internationally on issues related to Orthopaedic procedures and injury management. During 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, Dr. Plancher was named among the Top Doctors in the New York Metro area and to the sports medicine arthroscopy program subcommittee for the American Academy of Orthopaedic surgeons. In 2007 and 2008 Dr. Plancher was named America's Top Doctor in Sports Medicine. For the past six years Dr. Plancher has received the Order of Merit (Magnum Cum Laude) for distinguished Philanthropy in the Advancement of Orthopaedic Surgery by the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation. In 2001, he founded "The Orthopaedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles", a non-profit foundation focused on maintaining and enhancing the physical well-being of active individuals through the development and promotion of research and supporting technologies. http://www.ofals.org.


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